Talking about fanservice (the non-Gainax kind)

Another dose of fan service unleaded hit store shelves here in Japan yesterday. No doubt Super Robot Taisen Z will sell a couple hundred thousand copies, elicit squeals of joy from fans of implausibly huge robots (including myself), and bring out the grumbling about fanservice. Yeah, nothing brings out the rants about rampant fanservice in games quite like Super Robot Taisen. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Super Smash Brothers.

Fanservice seems to have gotten a bit of a bad rap in gaming circles. The epiphet “pure fanservice” brings with it the automatic assumption that there’s nothing to the game but pandering. Fans walk in, check their brains at the door, and happily settle into what amounts to gaming comfort food. Substance is optional, or so say the critics. But maybe there’s a little more to the “fanservice” experience then that. Fans can smell when a game with a lot of style but no substance tries to play that card. It’s what happens when latter day Simpsons episodes trot out Arty Ziff or Frank Grimes Jr. for the umpteenth time. Fans roll their eyes and move on because there really is nothing to see there.

Super Smash Brothers succeeds because it managed to graft a phenomenal tribute to Nintendo onto a highly entertaining party game. But even taking into consideration how stupidly entertaining Smash Brothers tends to be in large groups, it would have faded into obscurity if not for the incredible love and attention to detail given to every last stage, character and encylopedia entry.

It’s that attention to detail that drives successful fanservice and torpedoes others. For every SRW that brings a loving eye for detail to every frame of animation, we get a game like Namco x Capcom that not only whiffs on the gameplay, but completely omits more than a few beloved characters. Playing it, you can’t help but get the feeling that it was thrown together not because the designer particularly cared, but because people would buy it.

But when a designer’s interests align with the fans, and that fan service becomes a true labor of love, then you know that you’re in for something special. It’s what separates the Mega Man 9s of the world from the Gradius ReBirths. When you get a look at those Mega Man 9 press kits, or you hear about SRW producer Takanobu Terada gleefully inserting his childhood favorite Space Emperor God Sigma into Z’s series lineup, you realize that those games aren’t for you anymore. You’re just along for the ride as the design team takes ownership of their favorite property and lavishes on it all the attention it deserves.

That really is pure fanservice for you. We should be so lucky to play games crafted with that much heart.

7 thoughts on “Talking about fanservice (the non-Gainax kind)

  1. Can Mega Man 9 qualify as fan service even when it’s that hard, harder than the classic Mega Man games it purports to follow? Sure, the ridiculous “cover art” and other marketing moves are direct fan-appeals, but the game itself seems rather unfriendly, almost jerk-like in its cruelty.

    Then again, I still love it…so maybe I’m wrong.

  2. I dunno about you, but everytime I’ve died in Mega Man 9, I’ve yelled, “God damnit!” then broken into laughter. I simply cannot get mad at that game.

  3. I’m a sucker for fanservice games (regarding things, er, I’m a fan of), even with poor or no substance. Even when I’m not well-versed in all things Nintendo, I can still appreciate Smash Bros. for its fanservice, even if I don’t really understand the appeal of the game (speaking of which, anyone see that There Will Be Brawl video? I’m kinda surprised how much I laughed).

    As a big comic fan, the X-men Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance games really tickle my nerd fancy, especially with all those extra missions specific to a particular issue, even though the gameplay is a slightly dumbed-down version of Diablo.

    Which is also why I’m a bit wary of FF: Dissidia. Its fanservice, to be sure, but it doesn’t look like the good kind of fanservice you’re talking about.

  4. The SRT series has always struck me as the apex of what’s fun about fan-fiction. Rampant speculation, sheer incredulity, all of it is on display and it is great.

    In any case, I’ve found myself of late playing an SRT clone by the name of Battle Moon Wars. Werk does a superb job of emulating the great things about the SRT series: the gameplay, the twists played the multiple franchises that seem so obvious in hindsight.

  5. Honestly, everyone should just use T&A when they mean T&A. The euphemism only serves to muck up conversations.

    I agree entirely with the sentiment here, though, and the overall implication that people should be making the games they want to play, rather than what they think other people want. Unless you have a huge thing for escort missions. You might want to reconsider if your gameplan includes lots of those.

  6. SRW, ironically, is more a videogame than Fire Emblem is, by now

    The series has experienced several refinements and re-imagining to its gameplay elements since its first debut.

    I can’t say the same thing for Fire Emblem which has hit an evolutionary dead end since it was ported to the Game Boy Advance

Comments are closed.